In Shakespeare’s tragedies, one element is consistent- the tragic hero. Each tragic hero shares certain traits that contribute to his tragedy. They possess a fault that will eventually lead to their demise. Shakespeare’s tragic hero is a man of noble birth who falls from a position of honour and respect due to a flaw in his character. Hamlet and Macbeth are portrayed as tragic heroes through their nobility, tragic flaws, and errors in judgment.
During the first scenes of Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet and Macbeth, Hamlet and Macbeth’s noble status is immediately established. Before Macbeth is introduced to the audience, Duncan and Ross speak of his greatness. Duncan is thrilled to hear of “noble Macbeth[’s]” victory over Norway, and tells Ross to go greet his “worthiest cousin” with the news that “what [Thane of Cawdor] hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won” (1.2.67). Macbeth begins with the title of Thane of Glamis, but his new name “worthy Cawdor” (1.2.68) adds to his already established nobility. In the opening scenes of Hamlet, Hamlet’s patrimony is revealed to the audience; he is the “most immediate to [Denmark’s] throne” (1.2.109). This title of “Sweet Prince” grants him a “noble mind” (3.1.153). “The great love the general gender bear him” corroborates his position as “the expectancy and rose of the fair state” (3.1.153). Ophelia regards Hamlet as the renaissance man with “the glass of fashion, and the mould of the form” (3.1.66). Claudius admits that “the Queen his mother Lives almost by his looks” (3.1.11-12). Hamlet is already noble by birth, but these portrayals aid the reader to understand his degree of nobility. Even though Hamlet and Macbeth maintain nobility, they each have a tragic flaw, which leads to their collapse.
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In spite of the fact that Hamlet and Macbeth are in a position of honour, each has its own tragic flaws. Macbeth encounters the witches after his victory over Norway. Here they hail Macbeth “that shalt be King” (1.3.51). this favouring prophecy triggers the downfall of Macbeth. “[He has] no spur To prick the sides of [his] intent, but only vaulting ambition” (1.7.25-27) will eventually kill him. His ambition leads him to accept “the very firstlings of [his] heart, shall be/The firstlings of his hand” (4.1.147-148). Hamlet’s promise to avenge his father’s death by killing Claudius is put on hold because he finds himself “thinking too precisely on the’ event” (4.4.40).
Hamlet’s indecisiveness is a flaw in his character. He contemplates the reasons not to kill Claudius while Claudius is praying. If Hamlet were to kill Claudius while he is repenting of his sins, he would go to heaven with his acts forgiven. In his opportune time to assassinate Claudius, Hamlet’s mind wanders to an act of the murder that “has no relish of salvation in it [. . .] and that his soul may be as damned and as black as hell” (3.3.92-93). It is ironic that Cladius is unable to repent of his sins, and Hamlet’s opportunity to murder is lost. These tragic flaws lead to the errors in judgment of these characters.
Macbeth and Hamlet are different men involved in different situations, but their errors in judgment prevail over every situation they confront. This once “noble Macbeth” (1.2.67), listens to the prophecies given by the witches, which causes his desire to be king to be unleashed. If these foretellings had not been offered to Macbeth, his selfish ambition would not have been a component in the murder. At the beginning of Macbeth, we find Macbeth to have no strength in mind. He can not make his own decisions without the aid of his wife, Lady Macbeth. Although he is a ‘soldier’ on the outside, he is a coward on the inside. As the prophecy that he will be king unfolds, he is torn between killing Duncan, and what he knows to be right. Lady Macbeth and his own ambition coax him to “[. . .] screw [his] courage to the sticking place and [they will] not fail” (1.2.70-71). Throughout Hamlet, Hamlet’s indecisiveness leads to his destruction.
He contemplates not only to kill Claudius, but whether “[t]o be, or not to be: that is the question:/Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer-/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep”(3.1.56-60). His mind always acquires the best of him because he thinks “too precisely on th’ event” (4.4.40). Regardless of his contemplation is over killing Claudius or his own self-destruction, his indecisiveness always overrules him. Macbeth and Hamlet’s tragic flaws lead to their errors in judgment, which begin their downward spiral to their demise.
Hamlet and Macbeth are depicted as tragic heroes through their nobility, tragic flaws, and errors in judgment. These two men are the epitomes of the tragic hero who rise high, then fall to their rock bottom demise. Macbeth and Hamlet begin with the all-knowing of the theme that evil is permanent, but they both end with the resolution knowing that everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, then it is not the end.
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